The shelf life of Luton’s three public libraries

The Free Library built in 1883 on the corner of George Street and Williamson Street was to serve Luton’s needs for 27 years.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 21st November 2013, 2:00 pm
The opening of Luton's Carnegie Library

Its chief defect was that it operated on a closed-shelf system which, while it reduced to a minimum the theft of books, gave no great encouragement to reading.

In 1910, Luton Corporation accepted the gift of a Public Library from Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist.

A total of 2,509 Carnegie libraries were built across the world, including 660 in Britain and Ireland and 1,689 in the United States, between 1883 and 1929.

Few towns that requested a grant and agreed to his terms were refused.

Carnegie was present when the Luton one was opened on the Free Library site by Whitelaw Reid, the American Ambassador, who lived at Wrest Park, Silsoe.

Carnegie was added to the list of Honorary Freemen of the Borough.

Lutonians had use of his library for about 50 years, but even with branch libraries, it was eventually inadequate.

The Central Library at what is now St George’s Square was built in a modern style with a gramophone record and music library, as well as a theatre and lecture room.

Completed in 1962, it was later visited by the Queen..